Hell Swazey Breaks up the Dance
A true dynamite story which shows how an im- portant fact about nitro-glycerine was discovered
By Hudson Maxim
This story, which tells how the fact that nitro-glycerine can be made safe simply by freezing it was discovered, is taken from Hudson Maxim's recently published "Dynamite Stories." The author's impression of Popular Science Monthly is printed on page 321. He is the inventor of the smokeless powder used in the navy, one of the foremost authorities on explosives in the world, a distinguished inventor, and a prominent member of the Naval Consulting Board. — EDITOR.
��A BOUT the first use of nitro-glycerine in J-\ the United States as a blasting agent on a large scale was in the construc- tion of the Hoosac Tunnel in Massachu- setts, on the Boston and Albany Railroad.
A chemist by the name of Professor Mowbray believed that the main trouble with nitro-glycerine had been that it was not sufficiently purified in its manufacture. He induced the builders of the Hoosac Tunnel to try his product.
He put it up in tin cans, which held about a quart. For transportation these were carefully packed in cotton flannel.
The method of using the dynamite was to pour it into holes drilled in the rock, inserting an exploder cap and fuse in the usual manner. At that time it was popular- ly supposed that if nitro-glycerine or dyna- mite were allowed to freeze, it became very highly sensitive and would explode on the slightest jar. Stories were prevalent that the sound of a fiddle would explode it.
One day there came an urgent call from the east end of the Tunnel for more nitro- glycerine. Professor Mowbray had in his employ a care-free and fear-free fellow by the name of Helton Swazey. When Swazey was sober, he was the soul of good nature, but when drunk, which was very frequently, he was as savage as a hungry cougar. This peculiarity earned Helton Swazey the nick- name of Hell Swazey.
It was a very cold winter day when the call came, and Professor Mowbray, learning that Hell Swazey was going over the mountain that very evening to attend a dance, asked him if he would not take over the nitro-glycerine with him. A hot-water bag was placed with the nitro-glycerine and all was wrapped in a heavy blanket to protect it from Jack Frost. The shipment was placed in the back of Swazey's sleigh.
��His best girl, whom he took with him, did not know the nature of the cargo.
The nine-mile ride over the mountain was very cold. Swazey kept himself warm by imbibitions from a flask of liquid caloric, and to keep the young woman warm he took the blanket and the hot-water bag from the nitro-glycerine for her comfort, leaving the explosive to the mercy of the below-zero weather.
When Swazey arrived at the dance-hall to join in the frolic, he was in so ugly and meddlesome a mood that he was promptly put out of the hall, followed by his woman companion. Swazey was mad all through. He went to the sleigh, and taking an armful of the cans of nitro-glycerine, returned to the hall. Opening the door he proceeded to hurl them at the merrymakers.
One can struck upon the stove and glanced across the room. Cans smashed against wall, ceiling and floor.
When Hell Swazey turned up for duty the next morning. Professor Mowbray had already heard of the escapade, but he was filled with marveling why the nitro-glycerine had not exploded, particularly as it must have been frozen very hard.
When Swazey entered the presence of the Professor, he expected to be discharged.
To his amazement. Professor Mowbray appeared to be very much interested and pleased, tapping his forehead with his finger, smiling and nodding and muttering to himself, "Good; good; splendid!" He interrogated Swazey carefully, to be assured that the nitro-glycerine was frozen hard, that it had been thrown hard, that it had struck hard, and that it had not exploded.
That very night there was mailed at the North Adams Post Office an application for a patent for freezing nitro-glycerine to make it safe to handle.